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Freshman Mandy Kilionski Pitches in Like a Veteran to Turn Simi Valley Around


SIMI VALLEY — Six weeks ago, Coach Suzanne Manlet of Simi Valley High was searching for the key to unlock the potential of her senior-laden softball team.

She found it in the right arm of a freshman on the junior varsity team--14-year-old Mandy Kilionski.

Kilionski, who also pitches for the 16-and-under Simi Valley Ballistics club team, is not your average freshman pitcher.

"We've always encouraged her to play up slightly to increase her skill level," said Trish Kilionski, Mandy's mother.

If Kilionski was an average player, Simi Valley (18-8) probably wouldn't have qualified for the Southern Section Division II playoffs that start this week.

And the Pioneers wouldn't have defeated two of the top four Division II powers, Cerritos and Thousand Oaks, which Kilionski did on the same day.

And Kilionski wouldn't have taken home the most valuable player award of the Thousand Oaks tournament last weekend.

Average pitchers don't rise to the occasion like Kilionski, who pitched Simi Valley to two must-win Marmonte League victories last week, sending the Pioneers to the playoffs.

"I love the pressure," said Kilionski, who is 8-2 with a 0.28 earned-run average. "I love having the game rest on me. It gets my adrenaline going, makes me more focused."

On Tuesday, Kilionski threw a perfect game and struck out 17 against Royal. Two days later against Westlake, in a game to determine the league's third and final automatic playoff qualifier, Kilionski out-dueled Georgia Tech-bound senior Erin Voeltz.

Kilionski tossed a three-hitter and struck out seven in a 1-0 victory.

No other pitcher in the region heads into the playoffs with more important and impressive victories in the last two weeks than Kilionski, a riseball pitcher with a lethal curveball.

But if anyone is surprised by her feats, it certainly isn't the steady, confident Kilionski.

"I knew with the experience I had, I'd do all right," said Kilionski, who has been pitching for fewer than five years. "But I didn't expect to have as much fun as I'm having."

Fun is striking out 1.42 batters per inning and allowing an average of fewer than three hits per seven innings. Cerritos, top-ranked in Division II, has managed the most hits off Kilionski, a mere five. And the Dons lost that Thousand Oaks tournament championship game, 1-0.

"She's very, very quiet, but very focused and she gets the job done," Manlet said.

Early in the season, Manlet didn't believe she would need to promote Kilionski.

"When we started the year, we had three pitchers," Manlet said.

There was Michigan State-bound Brittney Green, sophomore Jessica Nyberg and senior Jamie Astorino.

Green, a four-year starter recruited by the Spartans to play third base, told Manlet she wanted to play mostly third base and pitch only if needed.

"Early on, we had decided as coaches if we can work out a two-pitcher rotation, we're going to try to keep Brittney out of the rotation," Manlet said.

But when Nyberg didn't heal from wrist surgery in the summer, Simi Valley was left with Astorino.

"Jamie has pitched really well for us," Manlet said. "But she's the type of pitcher teams can hit."

Astorino, a senior right-hander, relies on off-speed pitches. Strikeouts are not her forte.

"We were in a situation where we needed to bring up this freshman," Manlet said.

It was not easy for Kilionski to leave her junior varsity friends.

"I was having so much fun [on junior varsity] and my ERA was 0.00 and I didn't want to mess that up," Kilionski said. "But I'm glad I did [join the varsity] because it was the best thing going for me."

Kilionski has come a long way since her first pitching lesson as a 10-year-old with Kathy Slaten-Ayala, who pitched Cal State Northridge to NCAA Division II titles in 1983-85.

"Is there always room for improvement? Absolutely," Slaten-Ayala said of Kilionski. "Is there always someone nipping at your heals? Definitely."

Even when you are only 14.

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